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Last year's harvest saves Texas' meager pecan crop

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)--Texas' pecan crop is one of the smallest in years, but that doesn't have to stop people from gobbling pecan pie or giving away festive tins of the salty treats this holiday season.

Last year's bountiful harvest is supplementing the shortfall. Stored pecans can last for years and appear a bit darker because of their oil but are just as tasty, agriculture officials said.

"There are plenty of pecans to buy," said Jose Pena, an extension economist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Uvalde. "If you close your eyes and taste one (from each year), they're identical."

Texas is expected to produce 32 million pounds of pecans this year. For the second consecutive year, the state trails Georgia, on track to produce 70 million pounds, and New Mexico, projected at 45 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The nationwide total is expected to be 204 million pounds.

Last year's Texas pecan crop of 70 million pounds was part of the nationwide total of 385.3 million pounds, the highest in a decade or more, according to the USDA.

Many trees typically produce less after a high-yield year in what's called an alternate-bearing cycle, Pena said. The plentiful 2007 season made this year's low seem more drastic, he said.

Another factor in Texas was weather. Some orchards with irrigation systems fared well, as pecan trees got much-needed water in the spring, but most faced the wrath of drought, Pena said.

Texas agriculture officials recently estimated crop losses this year at $1.1 billion from the hot, dry spring and summer. They said areas along Interstate 35 and the eastern part of the state were hit the hardest.

Although varying by size and scattered statewide, most large pecan orchards are along the I-35 corridor and in western Texas and the El Paso valley.

"It's the worst I've seen in 20 years," said Kenneth Pape, who grows, buys and sells pecans in Seguin, northeast of San Antonio.

In Wilbarger and Hardeman counties, southeast of the Panhandle, the crop was too meager to hold the annual pecan shows earlier this month, in which prizes are awarded for everything from the tastiest pecan pies to the nuts with most meat production.

"We have some trees with nothing on them at all," said Langdon Reagan, Wilbarger County's extension agent in Vernon.

This year's paltry crop has not caused a slowdown at the 200,000-square-foot Navarro Pecan Co. in Corsicana, one of the world's largest pecan shelling plants, which buys from several states and Mexico, general manager Austin Nixon said.

He said the company remains busy because it has been shelling pecans stored from last year's harvest, which can end in February in some states depending on the weather.

Because those in the pecan industry know about the on-off seasons, as well as unpredictable factors such as weather and insects, customers probably won't ever see a shortage, experts said.

"They know that's part of the market," said Bret Holliman, a statistician with the USDA in Austin. "It's something that they've always planned for."


Date: 12/31/08

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